Ever since dreaming up the idea of travelling to Oz, the world famous Whitsundays and Whitehaven Beach were always towards the top of the list. It took us 11 months to get there but it was worth the wait.
What makes the Whitsunday Islands so special? For us, it was all about Whitehaven Beach and the stunning white sands. The sand is unique and a bit of a mystery. The silica makeup of the sand is different from the rest of the beaches on the other islands (which are more coarse). The properties make it resistant to the heat of the sun so you can comfortably walk on it barefoot, it’s excellent for cleaning jewellery and of course, it’s white.
Let’s get into it, here’s our quick guide on what you need to know for your trip to the Whitsundays.
How to get there
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays with most tour operators located here. Airlie is 1100km north of Brisbane and 600km south of Cairns. If you wanted to add it to a road trip, the shortest distance is from Cairns but the drive from Brisbane is just as action packed. Our stop at Airlie Beach was part of our trip with Greyhound Australia from Brisbane to Cairns. We arrived via overnight bus from Bundaberg, saving us a night accommodation and hours of driving, win.
Before choosing Greyhound as our method of transport, we were going to fly. Proserpine Airport is 30-mins from Airlie Beach with regular flights to and from. Or if your budget allows it, you can also fly directly onto Hamilton Island and get some first-class views on the way.
Where to stay
Airlie Beach is a really popular family and backpacker destination alike. There’s something for everyone in terms of accommodation, from serviced 5-star apartments to hostels with great nightlife.
We stayed in Magnums hostel and it was perfect for our time in Airlie Beach. The private rooms are separate from shared dorm rooms and they have a good policy on noise after hours. They have the largest party bar and beer garden in Airlie so if you’re looking for something quiet or lively they cover all bases.
For something a touch more luxurious, after flying onto it, why not stay on Hamilton Island at one of their beach clubs? We’ll have to come back!
Getting to the islands and Whitehaven Beach
As with any major tourist attraction, there are also loads of different operators to suit your style. We were looking for something couple and family friendly, rather than going in a big group on a fast boat.
After hours and hours of searching the web, we chose Providence V and their classic 62-foot gaff-rigged schooner (considered to be a baby tall ship). It’s a boat that has been family owned for years and all the owner’s children learnt to sail on it. It had a real family quality feel from start to finish and because of their service, it turned out to be one of our favourite trips in Australia.
On the day – sailing with Providence V
The day started off bright and early with a hotel pick up. For us, this was in a downpour but still, the crew’s spirits were high. We had morning tea of muffins (plus vegan option) and tea/coffee to warm up and dry out as we set sail. It was a completely different experience to any other boat we’d been on and we even had the chance to steer and hoist the sails (sorry if this is the wrong lingo, we’re clearly more pirate than sailor!).
Our first stop was at Hook Island Reef with the chance to snorkel the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef. With our stinger suits at the ready (and Dan in his life vest), we had at least a half hour snorkel over a good variety of coral. As the reef was in a sheltered bay, the water was calm and easy to snorkel. That said, there was still a slight current, so the boat offered life vests and swimming noodles.
We then climbed back on board and sailed on towards Whitehaven beach. The boat anchored in Tongue Bay and we were ferried to shore in a dinghy. The crew took us on a 15/20min walk up to Hill Inlet and offered to take pictures for everyone in our tour (they know the best angles!).
It’s best to be prepared, the Hill Inlet lookouts are busy. Especially when large, party boats arrive filled with people trying to get the best insta-shot. We got bumped out the way a few times by people having cringe-worthy photoshoots, so it’s best to try and snap your pictures quickly and go and enjoy the beach. We still managed to get some pretty nice photos despite the crowds by being patient.
This beach was something else. As mentioned before the qualities of the sand mean it’s bright white, this also means it’s super reflective. Make sure you slap on the sun cream before you get to the beach so you don’t end up looking like a lobster! It’s also worth mentioning that if you’re on your hols from Europe, our sun cream isn’t strong enough. Make sure you swing by a supermarket or chemist and buy some Australian certified cream. They say Queensland is the skin cancer capital of the world so be sun safe!
The lagoon was a highlight, we managed to see three smaller rays, a large ray and a handful of lemon sharks in the shallows. They’re easy to miss and nearly step on if you’re not careful so keep an eye open! It was a beautiful location and probably one of the most photogenic places we’ve visited. To find the lagoon and the best place to spot the lemon sharks and rays, go to the famous fallen tree and keep heading right.
Finally, heading back we had a spot of lunch, a couple of beers and sailed on home. The perfect way to end a perfect day.
If you want to check out the Providence V sailing tours you can visit their website here. The family also own ‘Mi Lady’ which offers overnight tours, check it out if you have longer to slow down and enjoy the sailing experience over a couple of days.
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